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[OPINION] Different strokes: sexual assault on a plane

Long-haul flights aren’t fun for anyone. If you’re travelling economy, you’re basically a battery cage chicken waiting to have food thrown at you every so often by the flight attendant, forcing yourself to eat horrible plane cuisine just so you have something to distract yourself from the fact that… you’re a battery cage chicken.

I’m sure things are a lot different for those travelling business or first class. But I, unfortunately, do not have a money tree growing in my backyard – in fact, I don’t have a backyard at all, so it’s the sardine seat for this traveller. And there I was, en route from New York to Dubai when I woke to a man taking the fun aspect into his own hands.

Less than halfway through my journey last week I woke to a mortifying sight. I wish I were one of those deep sleepers who can slumber through a war – like my wife. Unfortunately, the slightest sense of something around me jolts me awake. And so, when I felt a presence in the vicinity of my feet I woke to an undignified scene. A tall man, covered in a blanket pulled over his head all the way to his feet like a full body condom, was pleasuring himself with rapid motion.

My body, strangled with horror and just the right amount of sleeping pill haze, was shocked back into a forced sleep. I wanted to dream the nightmare back into submission. Unfortunately, this tactic proved useless and the image still haunts me.

Shortly after and unwillingly, the creep and I made eye contact.

He stared at me, face glazed with a look that was both confused and somewhat proud. I went for a walk to visit my wife a couple of aisles up to share my terror.

The billy-big-bollocks that she is, insisted on laying eyes on the sex pest intruder and then proceeded to ask me a variety of questions: “Was he looking at you while he did it?” No. “Well. I mean, at least he had the decency to cover his face. It would be a lot worse if he was perving over you”. True. Although, in many ways, he did make a conscious decision to choose a female victim in the form of a woman who was sleeping. Why didn’t he choose a fellow male passenger? There were plenty around who were slumbering peacefully as well. The answers here are obvious. I don’t think I have to go into details. If you have any semblance of the sexual assault women experience on a daily basis, you get it. I hope. This, as it happens, is a pretty low-level experience comparatively but terrifying, unnecessary and gross nonetheless. Worse still, it turns out that airplane assaults are a daily occurrence.

I did not tell the flight attendant, I did not report the man. And lucky for me because in July this year, when Genevieve Pascolla's flight from London to Chicago was interrupted by the same vile occurrence, she was met by mockery and pointed laughter on the part of the flight attendants.

They “started making jokes about the situation asking 'what perfume are you wearing' and excusing him saying 'he’s had a bit of wine,'" Pascolla wrote in an Instagram post. "No one stopped him. He was allowed to finish, with a child sitting closely by."

A 2017 US report found that 1 out of 5 flight attendants had received a report of passenger-on-passenger sexual assault during a flight. The findings showed that law enforcement was contacted or met the plane less than half of the time even though there are strict protocols in place for this kind of behaviour.

More than that, out of pure fear, embarrassment and not wanting to cause a scene, less than half of the women who are subject to these experiences actually report them. Women also experience pure fear in the face of these situations and are unlikely to confront the men themselves because they worry about violent reactions up in the air and in the middle of nowhere.

Sex offenders are obviously privy to this information - much in the same way rapists are – so confident that women will be too ashamed to report the assault – so they just go ahead and take advantage of the situation.

Flying is often referred to as the safest mode of transportation but as it turns out, the skies aren’t even a safe space for women. Men will exert their power over women where ever they can. Threatening behaviour is becoming more and more commonplace and it doesn’t stop at pressing into women “accidentally”, touching them – that boob graze that’s become ever so popular or even “discreet flashing" – and all in the name of a woman’s sense of self-doubt and shame.

Before you start questioning what you’re seeing, let me clear this up for you: Yes, he is really doing that, you should believe what your eyes are seeing and yes, it absolutely is a form of assault, so yes, you should absolutely react the way any man would: punch the pest in the balls!

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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